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These schools aren’t allowed to fail

Ohanian Comment: On Twitter, Arne Duncan announced that what follow is "thoughtful analysis on how to turn around Ohio's -- and the Nation's -- struggling schools.

Corporate soundbite piled on corporate soundbite equals "thoughtful analysis."

Mike Petrilli reTweeted Arne's declaration.

Ask yourself if you think Public Agenda is not influenced by the more than $1,000,000 it has received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. . . It all matters: the questions they ask, how the questions are framed, and so on.

And this report is sponsored by the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Ohio
Department of Education and The Ohio State University

First we were told poverty doesn't matter.

Now we're told parents don't matter either: Although parent and community support is a valuable asset, its absence need not limit student achievement.

The author of this report, Carolin Hagelskampm came to the US in 2004 and then did postdoctoral research at the Health, Emotion and Behavior Laboratory at Yale University. It doesn't seem like she had a lot of time for learning about American public schools. Her research assistant has a B.A. in Religion and History and has a background in qualitative and quantitative research, museum work, and communications.

I glanced at the Grove Patterson K-8 uniform policy, which states "Students are required to wear uniforms to enhance expectations for student success and learning" and includes this admonition: socks must be Solid Color, Plain, Navy, Brown, Black or White. AND socks must match. I zeroed in on this because all my life I've worn wild socks. When I was in physical therapy for several months, I won the crazy socks award. Actually, the award didn't exist until I started showing up.

Furthermore, at Grove Patterson Absolutely no jewelry may be worn or purses carried during the school day. I wonder what a girl does when she gets her period.

According to Great Schools, the poverty rating at Grove Patterson is 35%, not the 90+% faced by many urban schools. This would make a huge difference.

And the Grove Patterson website says this: GPA requires each family to attend Parent Teacher Conferences, volunteer 10 hours per school year and commit to assisting
their children with assignments on a daily basis.
This does not sound like one of the tenets listed in the report and repeated in the article below: Although parent and community support is a valuable asset, its absence need not limit student achievement.

I did not look at the other schools, and all I did at Grove Patterson was poke around a little (The are committed to Success for All reading). Clearly, Kushma doesn't have to poke around at all to get Arne's accolade of "thoughtful analysis."

by David Kushma

The failure of too many at-risk students in low-income schools -- in Toledo, in Ohio, and across the country -- is one of our most urgent and persistent crises. Itâs a threat to our security, prosperity, and democracy if we canât figure out how to resolve it.

Yet some public schools in struggling communities are succeeding academically at the level of the most affluent, advantaged suburban schools. What makes the difference in these schools, and what can others learn from them?

A new report by the nonpartisan research and policy group Public Agenda addresses these questions by examining nine high-achieving, high-poverty public schools across Ohio. TPSâ Grove Patterson Academy is one of them.

The study, funded by the federal Race to the Top program and sponsored by Ohio State University, the state Department of Education, and the Ohio Business Roundtable, is provocatively, yet optimistically, titled Failure Is Not an Option .

The report's authors visited the nine schools this year and talked to principals, teachers, students, parents, and community partners. The schools have continued to perform well amid the Great Recession and its attendant school budget cuts, labor-management tensions, and economic hardship for many of their studentsâ families.

The study identifies a number of practices and attributes that the schools have in common. Among them:

âThe principal and teachers put students' success first, and set high expectations for every student. They accept no excuses, from students or themselves, for academic failure.

âThese expectations include good behavior by students; discipline is consistently applied throughout the school.

âThe principal has a strong, clear vision for the school, takes personal responsibility for its success and for pursuing continuous improvement, and holds students and teachers equally accountable.

âTeachers and administrators collaborate and share best practices; their relationship is cooperative rather than adversarial.

âAlthough parent and community support is a valuable asset, its absence need not limit student achievement.

âThe schools use test data for its true purpose: to evaluate and plan instruction.

âStudents know that they will be challenged, but also valued and supported -- and loved.

"This is the first time I've ever seen the use of the word 'love' in a research report,â says Richard Stoff, president of the Ohio Business Roundtable. "When you hear teachers say, we'll do anything for these kids, that's a stunning finding. And it's very optimistic."

Toledo has a share of the bragging rights. Named for a renowned Blade editor of the past century, Grove Patterson Academy achieved the highest ranking on this yearâs state report card, even as the overall TPS rating dropped for the first time in five years, to the equivalent of a D grade from a C.

About half of the elementary school's students are poor (throughout TPS, it's about three-fourths). Yet Patterson students' scores on standardized tests are routinely among the highest in the state.

The academy offers an extended school day and year, along with a special 90-minute reading program at the start of each day, the study notes. The school does its own hiring and requires parents to get involved in its activities.

A Patterson staffer observed that teachers often must remind students to look up from the books they're reading while they walk through the school's halls. Reading instruction is part of all classes, including art and gym.

A system called âloopingâ pairs teachers at the school, and keeps them with classes for two years at a time. Teachers take part in job interviews, to help determine how prospective co-workers would fare within Pattersonâs system. Since Patterson is considered one of the best places in TPS to teach, faculty turnover is low.

Students who behave, do their homework, and perform well are eligible for modest incentives: parties, recreational events, goodie bags, âFun Fridays.â They quickly learn the connection between effort and reward.

Because itâs an academic magnet school, the academy can be more selective about the students it admits than a traditional neighborhood school. But it offers lessons that other schools in TPS, and elsewhere, could profitably absorb.

âLeadership makes the difference in how schools perform,â Mr. Stoff told me. âOur policy makers need to invest in leadership development, because it is absolutely within our power to train excellent school leaders.â

Mr. Stoff says that changes in Ohioâs pension laws governing public employees are likely to promote large-scale retirements of older principals in the next few years. Districts that seek to develop a new generation of talented school leaders would do well to use the Public Agenda report as a training manual.

Itâs ludicrous to assert â although some anti-tax zealots do â that the amount of money a school district has to spend has little to do with the quality of the academic program it offers.

Certainly Toledo votersâ rejection of the property tax increase TPS sought last month will hamper the school systemâs ability to carry out its reform plan.

But itâs equally false to argue that money alone determines the quality of a school district, or of a school. The Public Agenda report makes that clear.

We have to believe that all children can learn, once their basic needs are met, and to resolve that they will learn. When they donât, we canât just blame unprepared students or disengaged parents, or union contracts or bureaucratic rules, or a lack of money. As the schools in the study suggest, we achieve nothing by making -- or accepting -- excuses for schools that arenât performing.

"This study is proof positive that children from poor and challenged backgrounds can learn at very high levels," Mr. Stoff says. âSome people in our state, regrettably, would give up on these kids.

âThe prejudice that youâre consigned to dependency because of your ZIP Code, that youâre not worth investing in â bunk to every one of these excuses,â he says. âWeâve got results that prove otherwise.â

David Kushma is editor of The Blade. Contact him at:dkushma@theblade.com

— David Kushma
Toledo Blade





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